One theme in UNSW’s The Big Anxiety Festival, this series is all about embracing the awkwardness of human conversation. For visitors, it presents a unique opportunity to participate in intimate one-on-one conversations in experimental formats, enabling difficult issues – including anxieties, debilitating habits, and hard-to-talk-about subjects – to be addressed in open and honest formats.
Awkward Conversations make no demands, have no expectations, and require no social skills whatsoever.
The individuals taking part in the Awkward are each inspired by their own lived experiences. A mix of artists, performers, and activists, they are committed to creating ways to connect, to flouting the rigid conventions of normal social communications and to respecting radical diversity.
WHO: Dawn-joy is autistic. She has hyper-sensory capacities. She notices things that others may not – sounds, lights, smells, textures – which are often harsh, jarring and painful to her. Join Dawn in her quest for refuge and calm, inside a ‘clement space’, designed for respite from an over-stimulating environment.
HOW: Dawn welcomes everyone to chat with her one-on-one: with words or without words, ask questions or offer ideas; make something together or just sit in silence. We can have a conversation that is comfortable for both of us.
WHO: Debra is never nobody. She’s always looked at, she’s often stared at, she’s commented about, and sometimes laughed at. What she really wants is to be spoken with. Debra calls a dwarf a dwarf.
HOW: Let’s have a fiery chat eye-to-eye.
WHO: Greg is a cartoonist and story writer who likes to be respected. Throughout Greg’s life, listening, watching and writing stories has been a remedy for feelings of anxiety…except on the rare occasions when he suffers writer’s block and feels fresh out of ideas…then Greg feels anxious once again!
HOW: Friendly, humorous and charismatic. Choose your own adventure as Greg reads his comic aloud to you. (Greg is supported in one-on-one conversations by a representative of Studio A).
WHO: Sarah’s experience of psychosis was transformative. Sarah is devoted to making sense of her own and others’ journey through psychosis. She makes virtual reality simulations of her experience but also wants to find ways to talk face-to-face.
HOW: This conversation explores the relationship between mania and colour, and challenges our assumptions around psychosis.
WHO: Amala is a Wiradjuri artist who engages with Aboriginal knowledge(s) and perspectives on the experience of anxiety.
HOW: Discuss perspectives on anxiety over a warm footbath using native plants.
Katy B Plummer
WHO: Katy is a textile, video, and performance artist with an interest in personal revolutions and mythic internal narratives. Katy channels/processes her anxiety through compulsive making.
HOW: Keep your hands busy and your mind on-task with Katy. Hand-twist and wind strands of rope as you and Katy process your thinking by making.
WHO: Malcolm is interested in dispelling the anxiety of being ignorant by having open discussions that focus on what we do not know, and what we do not know that we do not know. He is an artist who proposes an equality of intelligence in all when it comes to our ignorance.
HOW: Confess the limitations of your knowledge and understanding in a safe space in which you can ask each other any questions on your mind, without necessarily looking for answers to them.
WHO: Artist, activist, and experimental conversationalist, Lois Weaver constructs alternative models for public conversation to make space for the things we wonder about.
HOW: Drop in for a ‘Porch Sitting’, where small, informal groups sit side-by-side with Lois on the steps of Customs House to ‘wonder’, observe, dream, or reflect upon the other Awkward Conversations you have had.
WHO: The anxiety of starting something new can be paralysing. Where do you begin? James is a visual and performance artist who is always confronting the first mark.
HOW: Start something new and overcome your mental block with James.
WHO: Bè is one of The Big Anxiety Ambassadors who uses his own lived experience to inform his work in the mental health sector. He takes a strengths-based, inclusive approach to advocate for a model of care that places people at the fore of mental health programs and services.
HOW: Bè has experience in protracted and persistent psychological distress since childhood and has sought many treatment methods to manage his symptoms. As an Ambassador, Bè will listen, share his experiences and tap into the broader community to promote wellbeing in new and creative ways.
Mitch Jones AKA “Captain Ruin”
WHO: Mitch is an escapologist and circus performer, as well as festival ambassador. He has spent time in a Turkish jail, is anxious about incarceration and pursues his desire to escape the confines of conventional life.
HOW: Talk to Mitch about practical techniques of escapism!
This project has been assisted by the Australian government through the Department of Communication and the Arts’ Catalyst—Australian Arts and Culture Fund.
The Big Anxiety Festival is an initiative of the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in association with the Black Dog Institute and over 25 partners across Greater Sydney. The principal Festival partner is The Bridging Hope Charity Foundation; Major partners and supporters include Australian Government, Department of Communication and the Arts: Catalyst – Arts and Culture Fund; The Neilson Foundation; Australia Council for the Arts; City Of Sydney; Mental Health Commission of NSW and the NSW Government.